Rescuing the children

Published: 24th October 2014

 Dilan dropped in at Sanctus a few weeks ago, just a lady in a distraught state. Revd Sally Smith is used to welcoming new faces to Sanctus, a support group for refugees at St Marks in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent. But this new face was to prompt Sally to jump on a flight and journey hundreds of miles across Bulgaria.

Dilan is a Kurdish Syrian. Her husband was killed by government forces, and she has five children, aged between three and fifteen. They fled as refugees into Turkey, and then onto Bulgaria, where they were processed in Harmanli refugee camp.

Sally asks me if Ive heard of Harmanli. It hit the news when Amnesty International reported on the camp in 2013, and found deplorable conditions…people held in metal containers, tents and a dilapidated building…[without] access to basic necessities such as proper food, shelter and sanitation. Amnesty interviewed a woman who was six months pregnant. She had not eaten for two days and had to sleep on a mattress on the floor. A Syrian man seeking asylum told them if you have money, you get out. Otherwise you stay here.

In horrendous conditions, no way of working and hostility from local people, Dilan got her family out, paying traffickers to take them into the UK. Sally explains: The traffickers said to split up the family they would bring Dilan and her youngest child first, and then the rest. But they never brought the other four, they just took the money.

Dispersed to Stoke-on-Trent, in telephone contact only with her children, knowing they were living in a squalid room, and going hungry, Dilan walked into Sanctus at St Marks.

Revd Sally spoke to a friend in Bulgaria, a Methodist minister, to locate the children and go to give the children some food. The children were in a town called Haskovo. It was a good idea to go, but it became clear that it was a totally unsafe place for the children. At that point, I decided to book a flight. Years ago, Sally took a group of 16-year-olds over to Bulgaria as a mission trip. I knew a Christian called Carol, who lives 6 hours away from Haskovo. She offered to take in the children. And through the generosity of local churches, I raised over 1,500 in donations.

So Sally, with friends Vanessa Renshaw and Michelle Fry, went to Haskovo, and secured the release of Dilans children. They settled quickly. The oldest boy is passionate about football, loves Real Madrid we were able to get him some football boots and his face he was just happy beyond words. Now Carol is teaching the children English, and has them sitting up at the table learning and copying words out.

The children had all their things packed together in one case. They are still holding the passports of uncles and other family members who have been forced to flee to Iraq and other areas says Sally. The human cost of these conflicts in the Middle East is immense. Sometimes we feel like theres nothing we can do. But the victims of violence are all around us, and here is one woman coming to our church for help.

If you would like to help this family, and others like them, contact Sally Smith on 01782 266066.

*Dilan's name has been changed.

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